There’s a definite resurgence in 2D platforming at the moment, and especially on the Switch, where games like this are finding a natural home. And that’s great for me, a long-time lover of the genre. So, I must confess, I settled down in front of this game filled with excitement and itching to play.
And then I glanced up to find that a few hours had gone by and I thought I had only been playing for a few minutes. This game is definitely engrossing. You play as a mysterious warrior with a hidden past, making your way through a chinese village. While that setting is great and atmospheric, it’s the gameplay mechanics that make or break this game. And luckily, they make it.
The only real actions that you can perform in-game are walk, jump, and swing a handheld lantern that you carry around with you, and that lantern is the mechanic that gives this game it’s depth. You see, there are lots of other lanterns around the levels, and when your lantern interacts with those, then it has an impact on you. At the beginning this is only really used for chain-jumping, so you jump in the air and swing to hit one lantern, and when you hit it, then you get a second jump from the lantern, which puts you in range of another lantern, and so on and so forth, until you are chain-jumping your way through some incredibly complicated levels where there are no platforms to land on for ages. So if you miss, you fall and then start back at the nearest checkpoint.
Which sounds annoying, but it’s really not – and that’s mostly because of the numerous checkpoints and instant re-spawns. So the moment you die you are back at the previous checkpoint – which is almost always just before the most recent set of jumps that you are doing. So you never feel like the game is punishing you for screwing up.
Then, later on, other mechanics are introduced – moving obstacles, lamps that need to be hit multiple times to move other obstacles out of the way, winds you can ride, a sun that wants to incinerate you for no good reason whatsoever – and the simplistic beauty of the game becomes ever more clear. It’s a challenge, for sure, but one without any real enemies. You get problems, you get obstacles, but there aren’t any actual things attacking you, and I found that a really nice relaxing change of pace.
It’s also not an easy game – it’s definitely one where you have to keep trying again and again, but the vast majority of it does not feel unfair – you die because you did something wrong, and then you start back at the last checkpoint and do your best to correct the problem. That’s not always true, and there are a few sections where it feels like death is unavoidable the first couple of times you try, and you have to learn by trial and error- but realistically these are few and far between.
For a game of this type, good controls are, of course, absolutely essential. And the ones that we get in Shio are damn near perfect. The speed and jump arc are great, the lantern swing is damn near perfect, and I never had a situation where I felt like the controls let me down. The only bit I didn’t really like was the bits where you are forced to walk slowly… but that’s not really the fault of the controls, that seems to be a fault of the storytelling.
Hands up – the bit I liked the least in this game is it’s method of telling the story. There is often nowadays a battle between story in games and accessibility of the game – obviously if the story is too deep or complex there are worries about putting people off – especially with a retro-styled game like this. Unfortunately this has led to a rise in prominence of the “journal” style of storytelling, where you can smash through the game without knowing anything about it, or read entries in a journal as and when they become unlocked. I’ve never liked this style of storytelling, and because of that I didn’t really spend any time on the game’s story at all. I’m sure it may be lovely, but stopping and reading chunks of text is not what I want to do in a platformer, so if you give me the option to leave it alone, that’s what I’m going to do.
But that’s my only real negative about the game. Graphically, it’s got an absolutely beautiful art style. I really feel that we’re living in a great era of gaming now – particularly for indie games, where every style is on the table, and consequentially companies pick the best style to suit their game. And that’s really true here – it’s atmospheric, colourful and so very smooth. And the sound/music is great too. Nothing exceedingly memorable, but certainly music that fits the tone of the game to a tee. And that’s all you want here, isn’t it.
The bottom line is that if you need a challenging, beautiful platform game on your Switch (or on any other format it’s released on) then Shio is definitely worth the money. Not a perfect game, but certainly one that kept me entertained from start to finish.